33 killed in clashes in northern Iraq
At least 33 people were killed and 40 injured in fresh violence in Iraq's restive northern provinces on Thursday, while the US military announced that 4,000 of its troops in Iraq would return home in June.
The violence came as Iraq received a vote of confidence on Thursday for its efforts to promote security for its citizens by almost 100 countries and organizations gathered for a one-day UN-Iraq summit in Sweden.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon read a joint declaration at the Stockholm gathering, expressing further commitment for Iraq and recognizing "strong progress" in terms of establishing rule of law and promoting economic development.
At least 14 civilians were injured in a car bomb blast in a crowded neighborhood in Mosul, one of three explosions in the northern Iraqi city, a police source said.
"A car bomb went off near a bus station in al-Nabi Shia neighborhood, wounding 14 civilians, including eight women and a child," the source told Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency.
Earlier, a roadside bomb exploded in eastern Mosul, targeting a police vehicle patrol, while two policemen were killed and 10 people injured when a suicide bomber driving a police car blew it up near a police patrol north of Mosul.
Security authorities Thursday closed the highway linking Baghdad to Mosul and passing through Tikrit - about half-way between the two - after police forces clashed with gunmen hiding in a truck near the city, a security source said.
"The police guarding the highway killed 14 gunmen," the source said. One gunman detonated explosives strapped to his body near the police forces, wounding two cops.
In the northern province of Salahaddin, at least 14 suspected members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network were killed in clashes with policemen in Ouja, the hometown of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Lieutenant Ahmed al-Fahl, the head of the anti-riot police, told DPA.
The gunmen, who were hiding in a reservoir, opened fire on policemen in Ouja, near the provincial capital Tikrit, 180 km north of Baghdad.
Saddam Hussein is buried in the Tigris River village of Ouja, where he was born.
Early Thursday in the neighbouring Nineveh province, at least 19 people were killed and 27 injured in twin suicide bombings. In Sinjar a bomber wearing an explosive vest blew himself up near a police recruitment centre, killing 17 people and injuring 17, local police said.
Sinjar is a town on the border with Syria, about 500 km northwest of Baghdad.
Also Thursday, the US military announced that about 4,000 US troops deployed in Iraq's Diyala province last year will leave the country in June as part of an overall troop cut.
The Pentagon is planning to cut troops in Iraq to about 140,000 soldiers by July after a surge that included the deployment of 30,000 extra troops to stem violence in Baghdad and the surrounding areas.
"We have been very successful during our 14 months of operations in Taji and Diyala," said Colonel John Lehr, the brigade commander.
The troops were part of the surge, which added five brigades to the US troops in Iraq. Three of the brigades have already left the country.